Predictability and Heavy-handed Storytelling in Terraferma


Save them, or let them drown? This is the question facing a fisherman on the tiny Italian island of Linosa, whose waters have become an arrival point for North African refugees seeking asylum. In this subtle-as-a-brick issue picture from director Emanuele Crialese (Respiro), an old fisherman (Mimmo Cuticchio) and his 20-year-old grandson, Filippo (Filippo Pucillo), rescue Sara (Timnit T.), a pregnant Ethiopian woman, and her son from the sea, and sneak them home, where Filippo’s mother, Giulia (Donatella Finocchiaro), delivers Sara’s baby. From here, Crialese shifts ungracefully between scenes of the locals bickering among themselves, partying tourists ravaging the shoreline, and policemen hauling—in slow motion—weakened refugees off to jail (as the tourists snap photos). Countering all this heavy-handedness are a potent series of conversations between Giulia and Sara, whose relationship has a complexity missing from the rest of the film. When the newborn won’t stop crying, Giulia picks him up, and the baby instantly quiets. “She smells your hands,” Sara says. “She was born in your hands.” The filmmakers eventually gain narrative momentum by focusing on Giulia’s and Filippo’s respective journeys toward tolerance, but it’s all very predictable, very Hollywood. Storytelling cliché, it would seem, knows no borders.